On International Literacy Day, it seems only fitting for a music platform to highlight songs inspired by great works of literature. With everything from Kate Bush The Wuthering Heights at Dire Straits’ Romeo and Juliet, the written word has been hugely influential to many artists.
Iron Maiden performing in Croatia, 2016 / Photo Credit: Borna Filic/Pixsell/PA Images
However, one group in particular is very well known for being inspired by famous stories. Here are 11 Iron Maiden pieces that were influenced in some way by classical poetry and prose.
1. Flight of Icarus
As one can probably guess, this 1983 of their Peace of mind The album is loosely based on the Greek myth of Icarus, with the title actually being taken from Jacob Peter Gowy’s 15th century painting. For those who didn’t know, the myth tells of the ambitious Icarus who Daedalus gives wings made of wax and feathers to help him escape from Crete, only for him to defy the warnings of this last by flying too close to the sun, melting its wings and falling into the sea.
2. The number of the beast
While the content of this song from their 1982 album of the same name is largely based on Revelation, it was also apparently partly inspired by the poem. Tam o’ Shanter by Robert Burns, which is about a drunkard who finds himself chased by witches and creatures of the devil. That and a nightmare Steve Harris had after watching Damien: Omen II.
3. The Soldier
That song from 1983 Peace of mind, was directly influenced by Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s 1854 poem The Charge of the Light Brigade, based on the Battle of Balaclava which took place during the Crimean War.
4. The evil that men do
Although the subject of this song has little to do with the story from which the title quote is taken, it is a reference to Marcus Antonius’ speech after Caesar’s murder in Shakespeare’s play. Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good are often buried with their bones.
5. Off the Silent Planet
CS Lewis is perhaps best known for The Chronicles of Narnia, but he wrote a rather large philosophical science fiction novel in 1938, after which this piece is named. It appears on the 2000 album The best of worlds (more on that shortly), though it’s actually more thematically based on the sci-fi movie forbidden planet.
6. Brave New World
The lead track from their 2000 album needs no explanation, but we’ll give you one anyway. The best of worlds is, of course, a novel written by Aldous Huxley in 1932 and stands up there as one of the greatest works of dystopian fiction of all time alongside George Orwell 1984, that of Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451 and Philip K. Dick Do androids dream of electric sheep?. It’s all about social hierarchy and eugenics, and the song follows the themes of artificiality and emptiness that come with the brave new world.
7. The Phantom of the Opera
Taken from their eponymous debut album, this song poses a rather unsympathetic vision of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom. The Phantom of the Opera (famously adapted for the stage by Andrew Lloyd Webber).
8. Ancient Mariner’s Rhyme
The Rime of the Ancient Sailor is a very long 18th century poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and thus the story of Iron Maiden on their 1984 album Powerslave lasts 13 minutes. Anyone who studies this text should hear this masterful song.
9. Seventh son of a seventh son
The self-titled track from their seventh studio album is, of course, inspired by the fantasy novel seventh son by Orson Scott Card. This is the first of his Alvin Maker’s Tales series about a seventh son of a seventh son who is hunted because of the powers conferred on him by his hereditary position.
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10. Lord of the Flies
Based on the 1954 novel of the same name by Nobel Prize winner William Golding, lord of the flies featured on Iron Maiden’s tenth album The X Factor and, like the novel, tells the story of the divided attitudes between a group of boys left stranded on an island; those with the rationality that comes with mature ideas, and those for whom the security of maturity is still a long way off.
11. The Man Who Would Be King
The man who wanted to be king from the 2010s The Final Frontier is named after Rudyard Kipling’s 1888 novel, but it’s not entirely clear whether or not Iron Maiden intended to share thematic similarities. The story follows a man who, alongside his friend, becomes a king in the eyes of the Kafirs after crossing treacherous mountains to find their isolated community. Only, his friend ends up being executed and the man is set free after surviving a crucifixion to descend into madness as he wanders the roads with nothing but regret and his mate’s severed head.